Iraq's prime minister says U.S. and Iraqi authorities are working together to arrest and prosecute Iraqi politicians and top officials suspected of links to armed extremist groups.
"There is coordination between us and the (U.S.-led) Multinational Forces (that) started at the beginning of this year ... to determine who should be arrested and the reasons behind arresting them," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.
His comments were in response to a question about whether lists had been prepared of senior Iraqi officials, politicians and lawmakers targeted for arrest.
Al-Maliki said Iraqi authorities would begin preparing cases against unspecified officials and would refer them to investigative judges, who under the Iraqi legal system can issue indictments like American grand juries.
The prime minister gave no further details, such as how many people were targets of investigations or any specific names. He also did not specify when cases would be forward to investigative judges.
U.S. officials would not comment on the purported lists or even confirm if they exist, citing a policy not to discuss intelligence operations.
"We will not discuss actual, alleged, or potential intelligence activities in order to protect operational security," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman. "Obviously, such a list would fall under this type of activity."
Garver noted that the coalition does have authority to "take all necessary measures" to maintain security, but said it would not arrest people "for political reasons."
Five Iraqi officials — two of them generals and the others from Sunni and Shiite parties — have told the AP that U.S. officials and Iraqi intelligence agents were drawing up such lists of top officials and politicians to be arrested under the Baghdad security plan.
All five said they had direct knowledge of the lists, but none would speak on the record because the issue is so sensitive.
An Iraqi army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, alluded to "lists" but stopped short of confirming its existence.
"This subject has some delicate intelligence elements," he said at a news conference last month, without elaborating.
One of the Iraqi officials who spoke to AP said al-Maliki had asked the Americans to make the arrests to provide his government with political cover.
"There is a list of lawmakers, undersecretaries at several ministries and politicians who are involved in terrorist activities," the official said. "There is no immunity for lawmakers ... the prime minister is determined to pursue this."
A U.N. Security Council resolution gives the U.S.-led coalition the authority to detain anyone suspected of presenting a security risk to multinational forces. One Iraqi general said some people on the list were believed to be providing financial help to extremists.
Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili was arrested Feb. 9 by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers for allegedly diverting millions of dollars from his ministry to the Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army.
Iraqi officials give various estimates about the number of people on the list, ranging from 50 to more than 100. The discrepancy could not be explained, but it could be due to changes in the list based on intelligence operations or linked to an effort by Iraqi leaders to pare the list down for political reasons.